One of my favorite quotes from Pope Benedict XVI is “Scripture can only be interpreted through the lives of the saints.” When I read this–and I forget where in the writings this occurs, it opened my heart and mind to both the Scriptures and the Saints in a new way.
The context of this, of course, is my background as an Evangelical Protestant–more specifically–being raised within fundamentalism. The good thing about this branch of Christianity is the love of the Bible. We memorized Bible verses, were taught all the Bible stories, knew all the characters of the Bible and studied Bible time lines, and our social world was abundant with Bible studies–every youth group would have a Bible study, there were Bible camps, Bible quizzes, Bible sermons twice on Sunday that lasted 45 minutes. We knew the Bible, and as I went to a seminary in England to train as an minister for the Church of England I was struck by how little my fellow ordination candidates knew about the Bible–and they were from the Bible-based Evangelical wing of the Church of England! I had a head start.
It was a wonderful foundation not only for ministry in the Church of England, but also for life as a Catholic and eventually a Catholic priest. As a Catholic I added the rest of church history to the Bible knowledge and this included the lives of the saints–who I increasingly came to acknowledge, revere and venerate.
Benedict XVIs observation helped me connect the two. Suddenly I saw that every saint, in a powerful way, incarnated some section of the Bible. The verse was “interpreted” not through an intellectual critical study, but through a life live within the power of the Holy Spirit–the same spirit that inspired the Scriptures to start with.
A few examples: St Therese of Lisieux lives out “Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom.” St Francis lives out, “Foxes have lairs and the birds of the air a nest but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” St Benedict “My life is hidden with Christ in God.” St Ignatius Loyola: “Put on the whole armor of God…for we do not fight against principalities and powers…” One could go on. Reading the lives of the saints makes Scripture radiant in beauty and vibrant in its relevancy.
As a Catholic I had come to see the Scriptures not so much as a stand alone text–a kind of rule book for Christian living or a source for Christian doctrine, but instead the living record of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and this work was lived out in the lives of the saints–not only the ones recognized by the Church and with “St”. in front of their name, but also through the lives of the everyday saints–my parishioners, my fellow priests and bishops and the many many non-Catholic disciples of the Lord Jesus who also, through their faith and heroism live out the sacred Scriptures and make them come alive.
St Jerome’s witness that “to be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ” suddenly has that deeper meaning. To be ignorant of Scripture is also to be ignorant of the saints, the living dynamism of the Church and the continuing fiery activity of the Holy Spirit.